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Mesa starts jet operation in Fort Worth

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

In 1996, Larry Risley decided to start his own independent jet operation out of Fort Worth, Texas. It would be modeled after Southwest Airlines, and he would use the newly acquired Canadair Regional jets purchased from Bombardier which replaced the Fokker 70 jets. The first airplane was painted in the original Mesa livery, a cream-colored over white fuselage with yellow and green stripes. Larry and Janie Risley posed for a picture in front of the newly painted regional jet mirroring a picture they took in front of a similarly painted Beechcraft C-99 back in 1983. The first market was Ft. Worth Meacham Airport to Houston Hobby.

Improvements were made to the terminal at Fort Worth Meacham Field to include small jetways that would fit the new regional jets. Mesa began to spread their wings in Texas and added two more destinations: Austin and San Antonio. But the plan went awry when Mesa began to make plans to fly out of state. A lawsuit was threatened to enforce an ordinance that was passed when the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport was built in 1973 preventing any airline from flying from either Dallas Love Field or Fort Worth Meacham Airport to any destination out of the state of Texas. Southwest Airlines had been dealing with that issue for years, but they were helped when an amendment to the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 (Wright Amendment) allowed Southwest to fly out of Texas from Love Field as long as they stopped in one of the four states that bordered Texas. When the Meacham legal action was threatened, Mesa discovered that the Wright Amendment’s allowance for interstate flight out of Love Field did not apply to Meacham.

So, Mesa decided to take their interstate flying out of San Antonio instead and added a flight from San Antonio to Colorado Springs. They also branched out and flew from Colorado Springs to Nashville. Some Mesa observers wondered if Mesa’s move to Colorado Springs was to capitalize on the void left when Western Pacific Airlines abandoned their Colorado Springs hub just before they folded.

New management took over Mesa in 1998 and the decision was made to cut the losses from the independent jet operation and to move the Texas regional jets to the US Airways system. The aircraft were repainted in US Airways colors and moved to Birmingham, Alabama (maintenance base) and eventually would operate out of the US Airways hub in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Mesa did some clever marketing campaigns to promote the new independent jet operation with a recognizable Texas theme - Y’all Aboard. Some examples of that marketing are attached to this article.

Larry and Janie Risley in front of their first Canadair CRJ-200 in old Mesa colors.

Cover of the Nov 1997 Professional Pilot Magazine, Pictured left to right: Mickey Moman VP of Flight Ops, Larry Risley, Scott Patton CRJ Chief Pilot, and Farah Brooks wearing the FTW operation flight attendant uniform (the magazine got Farrah's name incorrect).

Inflight information card for the Fort Worth operation.

Advertisement for the FTW operation featuring the Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive on the side of a building near downtown Fort Worth.

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